A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision does not change the fact that the University of Notre Dame’s religious beliefs are not burdened when a third party provides free contraceptive coverage for the school’s students and staff, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.
In an argument today before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Americans United explained that the high court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has no bearing on Notre Dame’s claims.
“The court asked some tough questions and is clearly giving this a very in-depth look,” said Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, who argued the case. “We hope they agree with our position that the federal government had very compelling reasons to ensure women’s access to contraceptive benefits, and that it has sought to provide that access while showing great sensitivity to religious objections and concerns.”
The dispute in University of Notre Dame v. Burwell centers on a regulation issued under the Affordable Care Act permitting religious nonprofits to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage to employees and students by notifying either their insurance company or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objection. If a non-profit opts out, federal law requires that their insurance company then separately make contraceptive coverage available to affected employees and students at no cost to, and without further involvement by, the non-profit.
The 7th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 in February 2014 that the regulation does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But Americans United, which intervened in the case on behalf of three Notre Dame students, was back before the appeals court today because the Supreme Court in March ordered the lower court to review its decision in light of Hobby Lobby.Americans United has argued that no federal appeals court has accepted Notre Dame’s argument – either before or since the Hobby Lobby decision. The students just want to ensure that they have access to contraceptives, which they cannot afford to purchase on their own.
The lawsuit was brought by the university in December 2013. School officials claim that the contraceptive mandate requires the school to violate Catholic doctrine – even though an accommodation has been granted that ensures the school does not have to pay for or provide contraceptives.